How a Tomato Can Turn You Into A Productivity Machine

Are you the kind of person who completes every task precisely when you set out to do it? Me neither.

This is what my to-do list used look like when I would set out to do a project:

But if I was tracking what I actually did, here’s what it should look like:

Eventually all the stuff I really should be getting done…(Oooo! Shiny thing!)

…doesn’t get done.

OR:

I spend way too much time working on one task and end up too drained to focus on anything else for the day.

Sound familiar?

That was how I did things (or rather, didn’t do things) before I discovered the Pomodoro Technique.

If you’re a productivity geek, chances are you’ve heard of it. But do you know how it was created, why it works, and some of the best products to help you use it?

Read on.

How the idea germinated

Back in 1992, college student Francesco Cirillo was struggling for a way to improve his study habits.

Like most 19-year-olds, he was easily distracted and unable to focus on anything long enough to make a dent in his ever-growing task list.

So he decided to give himself a challenge: study without interruption for 10 minutes. He used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to keep track.

After a few tries, Cirillo discovered the ideal time interval for getting sh*t done without distraction: 25 minute work sessions, which he called “pomodoros.”

Italian lesson of the day: pomodoro = “tomato.”

Viva il Pomodoro!

After graduation, Cirillo brought his tomato timer with him to work as a software developer. He shared his productivity hack with his co-workers, and they discovered the technique substantially improved their output.

Cirillo knew he was onto something big. He needed to give this thing a name. So he called it “The Pomodoro Technique.”

A Phenomenon Grows (Like a Tomato Vine)

Being a data nerd, Cirillo started to track and analyze the best ways to improve productivity using his technique. He discovered taking 5-minute breaks between work sessions helped increase focus and decrease procrastination on tasks.

He also noted that for every 4 work sessions, a longer, 15-minute break helped his co-workers to replenish their energy for more work.

Here’s what a typical task using the Pomodoro Technique looks like:

Task: Write Mindful Email About Pomodoro Technique

  • Create Outline/Research (25 mins)
  • 5-minute break
  • Write (25 mins)
  • 5-minute break
  • Write (25 mins)
  • 5-minute break
  • Edit/format images (25 mins)
  • 15-minute break

Eventually, Cirillo wrote a book on the Pomodoro Technique. At first he shared the book for free, but after the technique gained in popularity, he turned the book into a business. You can purchase Pomodoro kits (the book + a tomato timer) on his website.

Pomodoro Goes Digital

It was inevitable that a technique developed by a software engineer would inspire other developers to make digital versions of his tomato timer.

If you’re more into digital timers, there are Pomodoro apps a-plenty floating around the interwebs.

Here are a few timer apps I’ve tried out:

Pomotodo : This is a combination task list and Pomodoro timer. In the pro version (which you can try out for free for 15 days), you can estimate how many Pomodoros you think a task should take and track what you’ve accomplished within a task after each Pomodoro is done. Brilliant for those of us who have a hard time estimating how much time tasks will take: this way you get to know your actual work pace.

Vitamin R 2 : Mac user? Boom: this feature-rich productivity companion has every widget imaginable, including:

  • a built in Pomodoro timer
  • a goal-setting tool that helps you define objectives and switch between tasks efficiently
  • a note-taking tool for those moments a shiny idea pops in your head
  • a productivity feedback tool so you can track your work and study habits (and make improvements).

(Psst…also available as an iPhone app)

TimeDoser- If you’re into a more minimalist approach, the TimeDoser Chrome extension is a simple Pomodoro timer with lovely user interface. Just launch the app, and the window pops up with an appealing alarm sound to let you know when each work session begins and ends.

Unfilth Your Habitat- The Pomodoro Technique isn’t just for office work or studying. If you’re someone who procrastinates on housework, Unfilth Your Habitat may be the iPhone app you need to finally get that mountain of laundry done. Also: there’s a lot of swearing involved. And swearing is wonderful.

So give the Pomodoro Technique a try: the worst thing that can happen is you actually get sh*t done.

Yours in Productivity,

Josh from Mindful

P.S. In case you were wondering, we fully intend to integrate a Pomodoro timer into the Mindful.am app. Just one of the many features you can expect from us to help you make the most of your time. Want to learn more? Sign up for early access here: http://mindful.am

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